The United States Men’s National Team will miss the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986. The team had gone on a 40-year drought prior to their appearance in 1990. Let’s hope this isn’t the start of another drought.
The sport’s popularity is at an all-time high in the U.S., especially among the youth and with the women’s national team recently winning the World Cup in 2015, but that’s not translating to continued participation at the collegiate and professional levels for the men.
It has become a sport only the privileged can afford as they age, when in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and others, it has been a sport of the poor.
There’s not much soccer being played in the inner city or out in the country side. When these athletes grow up, they’re choosing basketball and football over soccer or even baseball.
This is a setback for the USMNT, one that makes us realize that they’re not as close as we thought.
The diversity of this country should allow the U.S. to develop a team full of great athletes, but that’s still not the case. Soccer is getting the leftover talent that other mainstream sports are not getting.
It all goes back to the dollars. If Major League Soccer had more competitive salaries compared to the likes of the NFL, NBA and MLB, we would see a shift in elite athletes opting for the sport.
Of the five highest paid players in the MLS in 2017, only one is American—Michael Bradley ($6.5 million).
Kaka, of Brazil, is the highest paid player raking in $7.16 million this year.
Compare that to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, making $27 million in the NFL, Golden State Warriors’ guard Steph Curry making $34.3 million in the NBA, or Los Angels Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, at $33 million in MLB.
Advertisers are also not contributing as much money to the sport domestically, but that’s only because television viewership- despite being up from years past – is not generating the numbers needed.
The sport is also not attracting the attendance numbers seen in other countries with stadiums at capacity with 30,000 or less.
The American audience is still not supporting the sport enough to generate a demand for an improved product. The Mexican National Team is just as popular, it not more, domestically as the USMNT.
Until any of that changes, the US men’s soccer team will continue to be mediocre compared to the rest of the world.